What is the Keystone Pipeline? Is that different from the Keystone XL Pipeline?
The Keystone Pipeline is an oil pipeline that runs from Canada through the United States, commissioned in 2010. The entire pipeline is comprised of four phases, the first three phases are currently in use, and the fourth is awaiting approval from the United States Government. Phase IV is officially called Keystone XL because it duplicates the pipeline from Phase I, running through more areas of the US mid-west.
The Keystone Pipeline (Phase I) delivers oil from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska and Roxana, Illinois, using 300 miles of piping. This phase was completed in 2010. The Keystone-Cushing Extension (Phase II) runs 300 miles from Steele City to storage and distribution facilities (tank farm) in Cushing Oklahoma. Phase II was completed in 2011. The Gulf Coast Extension (Phase III) runs 487 miles from Cushing to the refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, was completed in January 2014. A lateral pipeline, which will take oil to refineries in Houston Texas, is currently under construction. Finally, the Keystone XL Pipeline (Phase IV) is a proposal to duplicate the pipeline from Phase I from Alberta to Nebraska using a larger pipe, over a shorter distance. This plan included running through Baker, Montana where the U.S. crude oil reserves are located.
Phases I and II are able to move about 590,000 barrels of oil per day and Phase III is able to deliver 700,000 barrels of oil per day to the Midwestern and Texas refineries, respectively. You are probably wondering what these numbers mean, but it is simple. By looking at the United States oil production in November 2014, we can see 9,000,000 barrels of oil were produced per day1. Based on these numbers, we can see that the oil from the Keystone Pipeline only accounts for about 10% of the United States oil production, so that raises the question about the necessity or importance of the pipeline.
How do we extract the oil from the oil sands in Canada?
The process used to produce the oil from the oil sands for the pipeline is called surface mining. The main focus of this process is removing bitumen, a semi-solid form of petroleum, from the sands. Surface mining is a form of mining that removes the soil and rock the cover the minerals, in this case bitumen. Surface mining is most frequently used for the mining of “commercially viable” minerals that are close to the surface.
If the pipeline was proposed in 2008, why hasn’t construction started yet?
Since the proposal for Phase IV of the pipeline there has been political controversies surrounding it. The extension was proposed in 2008, and by 2010, the Canadian National Energy Board approved it, now all the proposal needed was approval from the United States government. In December 2011, Congress, led by a core group of Republican senators, passed legislation forcing President Obama to make a decision on Keystone XL in 60 days. By January 2012, the president had denied the application for the construction to begin. But in March 2012, President Obama did approve the construction of Phase III (Gulf Coast Extension), which to some supporters of Phase IV seemed contradictory.
Skip ahead to January 29th, 2015, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL was passed in the Senate with a vote of 62 to 36. Less than two weeks later the bill was passed in the House of Representatives 270 to 152. To the dismay of the supporters, President Obama vetoed the bill on February 24th, 2015, and the Senate was unable to override the veto, which requires a 2/3 majority, with only a 62 to 37 vote.
Who supports the Keystone XL Pipeline? Who is against the extension?
The pipeline has faced rejection and received support from people through the United States and Canada. One on hand, the Canadian government, oil companies and a handful of union laborers support the project because they believe it’s construction will produce a large amount of jobs. Residents in Montana and North Dakota also support Keystone XL because it would be much simpler for them to ship their oil to the refineries in Texas. Those in favor of the pipeline also focus on the concept that the pipeline saves money on the transportation of the crude oil. It costs about $10-$15 to transport one barrel of crude oil by train, while the pipeline cuts down the cost to about $5 per barrel.
On the other hand, environmentalists and other landowners along the proposed pipeline have been in opposition to the Keystone XL. These people have argued that building the pipeline will make it much more difficult for the United States to lower their use of fossil fuels and it will produce more of Canada’s oil sands. As you can see by the picture below many people are outraged about the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This image shows a scene from March 2nd, 2014 when about 1,000 student protestors from Georgetown University marched to the White House to show their opposition to the pipeline. Many of the students were arrested for zip-tying themselves to the fence and laying on the black tarp, meant to represent an oil spill.
What are the benefits or concerns people see with the construction of the Keystone Pipeline XL?
Two of the main points of controversy between the supporters of the pipeline and the opposition to the pipeline are the creation of jobs and environmental concerns. Those who support the pipeline believe that it will produce thousands of jobs, if not more. The supporters believe the pipeline will increase construction jobs as well as jobs for the operators of the pipeline, in addition to jobs created indirectly in related industries.
“The Keystone XL Pipeline project is estimated to bring in $20 billion of private sector investment into the American economy, create 20,000 direct jobs, spur the creation of 118,000 spin-off jobs and pay out $5 billion in taxes to local counties over the project’s lifetime.” – Gene Green
United States Representative for Texas’s 29th congressional district, Gene Green, an vocal supporter of the Keystone XL Pipeline, believes the jobs created by Phase IV will be incredibly beneficial for the United States.
Those opposed to the pipeline also agree that jobs will be created but only for a limited time. The graph below illustrates their opinion – they predict that after the construction is completed the number of jobs will greatly decrease.
When it comes to environmental concerns, the main focus is the effects of oil sands development on global warming. Extracting the bitumen from the ground emits about 15% more greenhouse gas emissions than the production process for a barrel of crude oil in the United States. James E. Hansen, NASA climate scientist and activist, said “if all the oil was extracted from the oil sands it would be game over when it comes to stabilizing the climate”. Industries in Canada are supportive of the pipeline and want to increase the oil production from the tar sands, but environmentalists have an issue with that goal. In a recent report, Reality Check: Air Pollution and the Tar Sands, environmentalists have determined that if the production of tar sands triples, which is what the industries want “it would mean a 230% increase in nitrogen oxides pollution, a 160% increase in sulphur dioxide emissions and a 190% increase in particulate matter”.
The Keystone XL pipeline also runs through multiple states throughout the U.S. and some residents are concerned about the danger of oil spills. For example, on January 17th, 2015, there was a massive oil spill, 50,000 gallons of crude oil, into the Yellowstone River.
What many news outlets failed to mention during this horrible event is that the Keystone XL pipeline would be build relatively close to this pipeline that spilled, but more importantly a spill from the Keystone XL in this area would be much worse. One specific example of a possible spill is in the Ogallala Aquifer, a fresh water reserve that spans eight midwestern states – Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The Ogallala Aquifer provides fresh drinking water for two million United States residents and supports $20 million of agriculture. An oil spill from the Keystone XL pipeline in the region of the aquifer would be detrimental to millions of people in addition to the United States agricultural economy.
Overall it is unclear whether or not the Keystone XL Pipeline will be approved in the near future, or at all. It is still a pressing issue that many prospective presidential candidates are being questioned on. So we may need to wait until the 2016 Presidential Election in order to see what the outcome for the pipeline is.